The fruit is back. I'm talking about the fresh fruit that Det. Charlie Crews ate and talked about compulsively in the first few episodes of "Life." When Crews stopped talking about fruit some weeks ago I had thought that it was a case of the show still trying to find its voice, to take some of the quirks out of its main character as the two-tiered formula took hold. But in "Serious Control Issues" the fruit (oranges and a very small pineapple) returns along with an angrier and slightly darker Crews, and the results are one of the season's best episodes yet.
The last new "Life" was two weeks ago; the major plot point was the murder of Ames, the now-retired detective who put Crews away 12 years ago. In "Farthingale" Crews observed Ames arguing with a man who turned out to be Jack Reese, father of Crews's partner Dani. Crews wastes no time in baiting Jack with the photos, leading Jack to charge into the lieutenant's office for a confrontation. Once the two men are alone they both show their hands. Crews knows that Ames lied about the 12-year old murder; he fudged a report to make it appear the victim's young daughter was not in the house during the crime. Jack (being perhaps a touch too broad with his threats) intimates that if Crews continues to pursue his investigation he's putting his life, liberty, and career at risk. An odder and perhaps just as ominous note was struck by Lt. Davis. She warns Dani that getting too close to Crews could result in a drugs-in-car evidence plant. Davis is the most opaque character on "Life." She seems to have some vague idea that Crews is the target of forces beyond her control but is unwilling to take a side. I find myself wishing that "Life" was on cable just so we could hear Robin Weigert as Davis bust out a few Calamity Jane-style "Deadwood" profanity riffs.
The loyalty of Dani Reese has been called into question in earlier episodes, but tonight she seems to have taken a side. Dani isn't close to her father; she tells Crews that she's never figured out whether Jack was bad or just mean. Crews and Reese aren't exactly friends, but Reese is beginning to trust her partner. She tells him she doesn't think he's one of the bad guys, and more importantly returns the knife she took from him in "Let Her Go." Reese is given an opportunity to request a new partner even after IAD says Crews can stay on duty during the Ames investigation. She doesn't. Crews may have an agenda, but Reese knows that it isn't the same one that her father, Ames, Davis, and whatever other LAPD power players involved are pursuing.
The last couple of homicides that Crews and Reese have worked turned on bizarre plot twists, but tonight's case was well conceived and gave us the welcome sight of a rattled Charlie Crews. A young girl who was living on the streets is murdered, and her movements are traced to a nearby grocery store where she played guitar for change. In the course of solving her murder (the pervy truck driver who killed her is well played by Michael Gladis of Mad Men) the cops meet a teenage boy with an overly protective father. The boy, Nate, lives in apartment with with bars and locks on the windows. Crews correctly deduces that Nate is being forcibly kept by his dad, and when Nate's true origins are revealed the connection to Crews's situation becomes clearer. "Serious Control Issues" reveals just how far Charlie is away from being adjusted to post-prison life, and how hard he has to work to hold on to what makes him an above-average cop. Charlie has made mistakes (confronting Ames) in his covert investigation into the 12-year old murder, and tonight I believed that as he fights to clear his name in the Ames case he could make more if he's not careful. Though the quest to find out who framed him feels like a story that can play out over 1 season tops, we now know that Charlie could get a good deal darker before things get better.
I'm not an obsessive follower of Neilsen ratings, but (writer's strike or not) I think it has to be good news that NBC is showing two new episodes of "Life" next week. I'll be blogging about a new episode Monday post-"Heroes" and Wednesday as well. See you then.